RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The state House of Representatives gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a bill to reopen bowling alleys and skating rinks, setting up for a final vote on Wednesday.
State Rep. John Szoka (R-Cumberland) sponsored the bill after hearing from business owners in Fayetteville.
“No business wants their customers to get sick,” he said. “We are taking the virus seriously. The issue here is that different businesses are being treated differently.”
The bill would allow bowling alleys and skating rinks, which are closed in phase two of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s reopening plan, to operate at 50 percent capacity. Employees would be required to wear masks, but for customers, it would be optional.
The bill also allows for food and drink vendors at minor league baseball stadiums to operate at 10 percent of the spectator capacity of the stadium as well.
“When COVID is eventually done, whenever that is, we still have people that need jobs. They need their businesses. They need to employ people. We need to get the economy up and going again,” Szoka said.
The House voted 68-52 in favor of the bill Tuesday. House Minority Leader Darren Jackson objected to it being considered again Tuesday, leading to a final vote in it being scheduled for Wednesday.
Before voting against the bill, Rep. Graig Meyer (D-Orange/Caswell) revealed that his daughter was recently diagnosed with COVID-19 last week and is experiencing mild to moderate symptoms. He said she was likely exposed at a bar where she works.
He said he hasn’t seen in her in person in more than two weeks. The experience has raised concerns for Meyer about the adequacy of contact tracing and making sure people who’ve potentially been exposed are informed of that.
“My daughter reported her virus exposure to her boss. He is under no obligation to tell the rest of the employees at the business,” Meyer said. “If we can’t inform people that they may have been exposed, then how are we ever going to get people to self-isolate? It seems very difficult to slow the spread of disease.”
On Tuesday, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services reported that 829 people are in the hospital due to COVID-19, which is the highest that number has been since the pandemic began.
“We’re all vulnerable to it. Some of us are choosing to take health and safety precautions and some of us are not,” Meyer said. “Think about all the people that are going to get exposed in similar situations who might be older, might have more risks. We’re not in a safe place right now. We really need to take this more seriously.”
Business owners say they’re taking steps to try to keep employees and customers safe.
Melanie Campbell, whose family owns Rainbow Lanes Family Fun Center in Clayton, said she and other managers have taken a variety of steps to get ready to reopen when the time comes.
Campbell said they will only have customers on every other lane, will ask customers to leave their shoes and bowling balls at the lane when they’re done to be disinfected, have installed plexiglass at counters and marked off six feet of space where customers will check in.
She said they’re “trying to get everybody being comfortable because bowling is thought of as being an icky sport, and we’re not. We can be just as clean as any other sport.”
Campbell is also president of Bowling Proprietors of the Carolinas and Georgia. He organization is part of a lawsuit against Cooper seeking to reopen. A judge will hold a hearing in the case Friday.
The Office of Gov. Roy Cooper released the following statement on the bill:
“This bill would limit the ability of local and state leaders to respond quickly to COVID-19 outbreaks that could overwhelm our medical system and endanger the health and safety of North Carolinians.”